Why a strong job market can actually create MORE frustration for unemployed candidates.


Something very interesting is happening right now in the employment market. As the news continues to report, companies are hunting for (and fighting over) talent, however, many unemployed (yet experienced) job seekers are saying… they’re not really feeling the love. College students seem to be landing entry-level jobs at soaring rates, and recruiters are busier than ever filling positions, so why is it that there seems to be this pocket of experienced candidates struggling to get a call back on their resume in such a strong job market?

In short… being gainfully employed is no longer the goal. Being happily employed, well compensated, and mentally and socially balanced, is. When the market tanked 12 years ago, and people were holding on to their jobs for dear life, you had people relieved to be employed. Who cared if you were happy!? You had A JOB. You may have even had benefits! You had something that many people around you did not – or were losing.   Now, the market has shifted. There are more jobs and record low unemployment. The days of holding on for dear life to your lack-luster job that helped you weather the storm of the recession are over. If you are not happy where you are, you have the ability to flip a switch on LinkedIn, update your resume, and throw your hat in the ring for a better position, better pay, or more balance – all while still working. But while people keep touting these data points as a beacon of better times, it can send frustrating and mixed signals to those unemployed job seekers who are scratching their heads, wondering why the phone’s not ringing.

So where is the snag? 

The unfortunate truth of the matter is, employed applicants are usually more attractive to employers, and when the employed candidate pool swells, it can drown out the unemployed candidates in the mix. It’s just one more example of why it’s so important for job seekers to remove themselves from their own perspective for a moment and put themselves in the recruiter’s shoes.  As a corporate recruiter, some of my most successful colleagues were hired while unemployed, and I cringe thinking about certain managers who would pass over people simply because their last employment date didn’t read “to present,” but I know it happens, and you should too. As frustrating at this may sound if you’re unemployed in this situation, knowledge is power, and if you know a conscious (or unconscious) bias might exist against your paper, you now know it’s time to change your strategy.

So what do these managers want to see? What are they thinking? And most importantly for this discussion, WHY do they prefer employed applicants? It all boils down to need vs. want. If someone “needs a job” (or what managers assume isneeds any job”), versus someone who specifically “wants this job,” there is an inherent assumption that they would be less invested in the opportunity at hand. Managers want to hire someone who is eager, not desperate, and if they associate “needing a job” with desperation, they are going to assume that the second a competing offer hits the table that offers you $0.25 an hour more- you’re gone. Flight risks are the biggest watch-out when hiring, because no one wants to be refilling the same position a month later. It’s a waste of time, training, and money. Yes, it can be a false assumption. No, it’s not fair. But by accepting and acknowledging this perception, you can find ways to work around it. Don’t let that piece of paper define you or your perceived value. Get out in front of it, communicate your employment story -on paper, in email, on LinkedIn, through others – YOU need to control the message.  

Most importantly, don’t allow yourself to be romanced by the Apply button and think that is going to get you recognized. It won’t. Leverage every contact you have and NETWORK your way into that next position. When people say, “It’s all about who you know,” they’re right. Don’t take that sentiment in vain, regardless of the job market narrative. Your contacts are invaluable when it comes to getting out in front of the employment dates that may be dragging your resume. One quick and credible, “Oh, you would love them!” to a hiring manager on your behalf can change the whole game and override even the most conscious bias.  Who knew job hunting was a team sport?

Krystal Hicks